My buddy Jeff and I were in the first few weeks of our trip traveling through Colombia. We got dropped off on the side of the highway in a sleepy little fishing village of Palomino Colombia, further along the Caribbean coast from Santa Marta, and past the popular backpacking stop of Parque Tayrona, in the dark of night. We grabbed a bite to eat at a small roadside restaurant where a man was shouting biblical sermons to an uninterested audience as mangy street dogs wandered into the restaurant.
Tired of the unwelcome mass and with stomachs full of chicken and rice we found two motorcycle taxis that would take us to a beach-side campground in Palomino (the town sits further inland).
We fishtailed through the loose, dry sand and nearly careened into palm trees on numerous occasions before arriving to a deserted campground–calling it a campground might be a stretch, it was someone’s shack beside the beach where they had an outhouse and allowed people to camp.
Palomino Colombia Camping
We set up our tent by headlamp and wandered down the pitch-black beach to the crashing sound of waves and the chirps of bats flying overhead. A few cervezas at the little beach-side shack and we wandered back to our tent.
Daylight comes early in the tropics.
Digging through our packs the next day to make coffee we overturned our bags and discovered that scorpions also call this area home. We certainly weren’t in Seattle anymore!
A strange, shirtless Colombian man with a rotund belly, a big black eye patch, and long, slicked back gray hair wandered around our campground gathering fruit. Our camp host from the night before was nowhere to be seen.
Floating the Palomino River
We wandered back into town–another stretch of the imagination, it was a couple little beach-side hotels and restaurants–and found out that we could float the Rio Palomino by inner-tube for just a few dollars along the mototaxi ride. Sounds awesome!
We road on the back of the motorcycles clutching these giant inner tubes as we made our way up into the hills above town and deeper into the jungle when the drivers suddenly stopped and let us out in the middle of nowhere.
With our little bit of broken Spanish, we understood the drivers tell us to hike up over the hill and eventually we’ll come to the river. Here we were in swimwear, one bottle of water each, and flip flops hiking through the Colombian jungle in search of some river.
Despite continuing on for what felt too far long and an elevation gain that felt too high, we made it to the river, about 30 minutes later.
For the next three hours we floated down the lazy river thick with the sounds of tropical birds and the lush vegetation of the jungle. It was an idyllic and amazing experience. But definitely be sure to bring some beers along with you!
The river grew wider, shallower, and slower as we approached the ocean.
Eventually, we could smell the salt water and hear the crash of the waves.
We had made it back!
The day was capped off with some cervezas at the beach-side bar.
Bonfire with a Colombian Pirate
Later that night, after dark, as we wandered back to our campsite, we ran into the still shirtless Colombian with the eye-patch that we saw earlier at camp gathering fruit, this time hanging out at his fire pit on the beach beside the roaring ocean ways.
We said hola and invited ourselves to join him.
“What’s your name?” I asked him in Spanish.
“They call me the pirate” he responded.
A fitting name, to be sure, given the eye patch.
We hung out for a few hours chatting about constellations, Colombian women, and the simple things in life.
Every once in a while he would ask to borrow one of our headlamps (a must on the dark beaches of Palomino, Colombia) to run to the tree line to grab some more dry coconuts to throw on the fire.
I had no idea coconuts were such great sources of fuel. We walked back down the beach to buy some more beers including one for our new pirate friend. It was such a fun, random evening, topping off an incredible day floating the Rio Palomino.
Still, to this day, it is one of my favorite stories and 24-hours in Colombia. It was a strange, surreal day where everything just kind of came together.
Palomino Colombia Safety
This sleepy little beach town, despite the dark nights, the place feels quite safe. Your biggest danger is probably getting lost in the dark although we did have one incident in Palomino, Colombia that was slightly alarming… We had a slightly crazy cat who had followed us back to camp one night.
He would meow non-stop and always acted like he wanted something, but we could never be sure. He made a few strange maneuvers toward me when I was petting him.
Soon thereafter Jeff was leaning down to pet him and I told him to be careful.
The cat took a calculated leap and bit him in the little fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger, instantly drawing blood.
Needless to say, this cat was no longer welcome in camp.
The next day we were both slightly preoccupied with the possibility of Jeff contracting rabies or some other communicable disease from a cat bite…
We had to put the thought out of our head for the time being as we were at least three hours away from any real medical service.
The next night we were at our favorite beach side bar in Palomino, and using Google Translate on my phone I managed to string together enough words to ask the bartender whether there should be any concern about a cat bite.
He told us no, that there had never been any problems with rabies or cat bites in the area that he knew of.
Strangely, not more than five minutes later, the culprit cat came scurrying onto the beach.
I shouted out to the bartender to “Look out, that was the cat that bit him!”
The bartender just laughed and said “Who? Golpi? No, he’s a good cat, no problem.” As he picked him up and started petting him
Strange days in a strange place, for sure, but one of my favorite days of all time.
Traveling to Colombia soon? Book your lodging on Booking.com now to save, or if you plan to stay longer, I highly recommend looking for a place on Airbnb. And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance for Colombia that will help protect you against illness, injury, theft, or rabid cat bites. I use and recommend World Nomads for its combination of coverage and affordability.
Read Next: Guide to Traveling to Colombia
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Colombia Trip Planning
- Book a cheap flight to Colombia with Momondo, or better yet, start travel hacking so you can fly for free.
- Plan a rough itinerary and how long you will spend in each destination. Use an itinerary planning service for custom recommendations and/or pick up Lonely Planet Colombia.
- Work a little every day to teach yourself Spanish, you'll want to know as much as possible before you arrive.
- Book cheap accommodation in advance, at least for the first destinations -- For hostels use: Booking, for cheap hotels use: Hotels.com, for apartments use: Airbnb.
- Reserve your on the ground tours and activities through Get Your Guide.
- Purchase travel insurance for Colombia with World Nomads to protect yourself from illness, injury, and theft while in Colombia. VERY important. And be sure to read my article: "Is Colombia Safe?" for my honest opinion and safety tips.
- Sign up for my free emails about planning a better trip to Colombia, and be sure to check out my comprehensive guide about traveling to Colombia.
- Learn more money-saving tricks with my top budget travel tips.
- Put together your Colombia packing list.
- Enjoy this incredible country!
I hope this helped you plan your travels in Colombia! I know it can be a struggle to find accurate and on the ground information when traveling to a new place like Colombia, which is why I started writing so extensively about it!
If you have any questions about Colombia, budget travel, or anything else shoot me an email at email@example.com.
(I love getting questions! That is how I get ideas for my blog posts and what to write about!)
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